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Moto X Style Review: Hands-On With The Moto X 2015

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There was a fair bit of anticipation ahead of the launch of Motorola’s 2015 line of smartphone devices, and due to Moto’s established convention of launching the Moto X and Moto G with their year number following the name, everyone thought the new Moto X would be the Moto X 2015. But, in actual fact, there are two new Moto X handsets this year, and neither are officially called the Moto X 2015; that naming habit, it seems, has been put to bed, at least for now.

The two new devices are the Moto X Style and the Moto X Play. If you’ve been anticipating the arrival of Motorola’s 2015 flagship, then the Moto X Style is the one that’ll be of real interest to you, being the lead model and true successor of the Moto X line.

While Motorola may no longer be a Google company since it was acquired by Lenovo (incidentally it’s now branded similarly as “a Lenovo company”), the firm doesn’t show any signs of switching from its winning formula of stock Google Android software, user customisation, competetive spec and slick design using quality materials.

And indeed why would it? Creating devices such as the Moto X and Moto G is what’s brought Motorola back from the brink and into the realm of competetive mobile manufacturers. The company revealed at its launch event that inside 2014 alone it had experienced 118% growth in mobile sales; and looking at its product line-up for the year that can only be entirely off the back of  the Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E.

Motorola is taking a rather different approach to retailing its flagship in 2015. In the US, Motorola will sell the handset direct to consumers, unlocked for $399 and it will work on all major networks. This is a very different approach than what was previously done by the company. The Moto X Style or, Pure Edition, as it’s known in the US, is a very compelling offer – it has great specs, it looks awesome and it is very cost effective. 

There are two distinct versions of the Moto X; the Moto X Style and The Moto X Play. And with the Moto G you have two types of handset to pick from — one with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, the other with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.

The other thing to know is that both phones will be available in Motorola’s established MO. There will be standardised models you can pick up off-the-shelf in retailers or with carrier networks in a small selection of colours and finishes. But, importantly, if you want a personalised phone, you can pick up either direct from Motorola via the Moto Maker website and customise everything from back panel material and colour, to the metal surround, accent colour, wallpaper, greeting message, engravings and more.

Last year’s Moto X was one hell of a handset, and while it didn’t sell in the numbers Motorola might have hoped for, it did set the bar pretty high for the company. And in 2015, it looks as if Motorola is at it again; only this time it might just be able to clock up better sales numbers, thanks to its renewed retail model. 

Moto X Style Design

As with previous generations of Moto X, the Moto X Style can be purchased directly from Motorola’s Moto Maker webstore, allowing you to customise the handset and personalise it to your own tastes. Motorola has expanded the range of options to include three metal frame finishes (we observed metallic grey, silver, and gold)  and seven accent colours (for the camera lens, metal strip on the back, other trim elements and physical keys). On top of this you have the many and varied options for the rear panel.

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The basic, entry-level setup is a silicon backing instead of Motorola’s old soft-touch plastic, and instead of a smooth, plain finish these are textured with a grip-friendly diamond pattern. As with the old Moto Maker this base option is available in a bewildering array of colours, from your basic black, white, or grey, to deep reds and navy blues, and eye-popping lime greens, yellows, and oranges.

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Then there are the slightly more expensive natural finish options; wood and leather are both making a return from last year. Motorola assures that the wood backs, including bamboo, cherry, and walnut, are all responsibly sourced from sustainable forestry. As for the leather, Motorola has sourced high-end Saffiano leather which has a much improved look and feel over the previous generation of leather backings. The model we went hands-on with was a rather eye-catching red leather backed handset, of course there’s a range of colour options to choose from here too, and there is something very luxurious about the feel of this high-quality leather in the hand.

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On the whole the Moto X Style design has not changed much apart from being ever-so-slightly tweaked and refined, and sporting a larger screen-to-body ratio. It’s still a nicely proportioned and relatively lightweight phone with a slight curvature to the rear panel that fits comfortably in the palm. The metal surround is really very nice indeed, it’s substantial enough to feel secure when handling the phone and accommodates the control keys comfortably (they’re not along an awkward curved edge or positioned oddly, jutting out at weird angles) and at at thumb or index finger level. At the same time the frame avoids the trap of becoming overly bulky; this is no brick of a phone by any means. Additionally the shape is a nice elegant blend of sweeping curves and tapered edges, and the metal finish gives things a quality feel and touch.

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Around the back the signature metal strip makes what often becomes a bland expanse of samey bodywork much more visually interesting. The top has the camera module and flash, while the lower section has a recession housing the Moto ‘M’ logo, but this is also somewhere your finger will naturally find to comfortably rest during one-handed operation. I’ll be looking out during our full review testing to see whether this stip also makes it easier to avoid accidentally putting your finger over the camera lens, although somehow I doubt that’s an intentional aspect of the design.

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Moto X Style Display

The Moto X Style also features water resistance (note: NOT waterproofing; splashes are ok, dunking is not) and front-facing stereo speakers, but the majority of the fascia is taken up by the display. It’s a 5.7in LCD with a QHD (1440×2560) resolution at 520ppi. As you might expect from a flagship display this is razor sharp with robust colour and contrast; particularly apparent when swiping through the interface of stock Android 5.1 Lollipop’s Material Design aesthetic. Viewing angles were also nice and wide. Brightness levels seemed very capable inside Motorola’s event but we’ll be sure to test how things go taking the phone outside in the sunshine for our full review.

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Moto X Style Processor

On paper the processing power isn’t as muscular as many might have expected of a new flagship; the Moto X Style doesn’t carry Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 quad-core chip or the next-gen 820, instead it has a 1.8GHz Snapdragon 808 hexa-core setup (the MSM8992), complete with an Adreno 418 GPU and a couple of other onboard processors; a Natural Language Processor, and a Contextual Computing Processor. All of this is backed up by 3GB of RAM.

During our brief hands-on with the device there was no chance to really put the phone’s engine through any serious testing, all we can really observe is that, as with so many other handsets at least reasonably well-equipped and optimised for Android Lollipop these days, swiping around the interface was silky smooth with nothing in the way of stuttering, pauses, or hangs.

Moto X Style Battery

The battery is quite a sizeable cell rated at 3,000mAh and Motorola promises the fabled “all day” battery life, a difficult promise to keep as drain is very context sensitive and dependent upon user habit. But still, of most devices we’ve seen that can hold a charge for a full day they tend to be in the 3,000mAh or above range and we know that Android’s central architecture has come on leaps and bounds in terms of battery optimisation with things like Project Volta aboard Lollipop. Meanwhile, the hexa-core processor shouldn’t be overly greedy either.  In other words, yes, we are being optimistic about the Moto X Style’s battery performance, but as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Another point of interest is the Moto X Style’s “Turbo Charging” for the battery, allegedly offering around 8-10 hours from a 15 minute charge time. Again, difficult to have demonstrated at a launch event so we’ll see how this goes with a full review unit in hand.

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Moto X Style Cameras

Cameras are another aspect that require deeper testing, but on the surface it seems Motorola has gone all-out on the Moto X Style’s imaging hardware. The primary camera boasts a promising spec sheet including a 21MP sensor with a wide f/2.0 aperture, phase-detect autofocus, two-tone dual-LED flash, slow-motion video, 4K video, and HDR. If some of the shots allegedly taken with this camera that Motorola showcased on the big screen are to be believed, this is one seriously impressive piece of kit that should have competitors quaking in their boots.

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I did, in fact, get a little demonstration of the front-facing 5MP selfie camera in action side-by-side against the iPhone 6’s alternative. Again this features an f/2.0 aperture and a wide-angle lens, and has been tailored for low-light conditions, complete with an LED flash. In the demo I was given it seemed the overall image quality was better than the iPhone 6, although it was hamstrung slightly by what I’d consider an overzealous flash which generated some serious red-eye that the iPhone 6 managed to avoid, while still providing an excellent quality photo.

Moto X Style Connectivity

In terms of connectivity the Moto X Style has all your usually expected high-end options with 4G LTE (Nano-SIM), Bluetooth 4.1 LE, Wi-Fi with MIMO, microUSB GPS and NFC. There are 16GB, 32GB and 64GB storage flavours with microSD support for cards up to 128GB.

Moto X Style Release Date, Availability & Price

The Moto X Style will be available to buy from September 2015. Buyers will need to purchase via the Moto Maker website directly from Motorola in order to customise the phone, or they can buy one of the two standard models; a black silicon back with grey metal frame and accents, or a bamboo back with silver frame and accents. Standard models will also be available through third party retailers and with contracts on carrier networks.

The only thing we know about pricing so far is that Motorola expects to significantly undercut the competition and that the leather and wood-backed Moto Maker variants will cost a bit more than the silicon backed models or standard models, but having observed Motorola’s previous use of the Moto Maker platform that was all par for the course anyway. Naturally we’ll keep this article updated with more pricing details as they are revealed nearer the time of release.

Moto X Style Conclusion

Very, very, very promising stuff indeed. The Moto X is making all the right moves and noises in terms of catering extremely well to that sector of the market that also enjoys products such as the OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, and Google’s Nexus devices (back when they had a cheaper price tag). That is to say, offering competetive specs with a comparatively low price (bang for your buck, essentially), but also stock Android software and a balanced, optimised and tailored experience in terms of key features (battery, camera, performance, software).

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On top of that you have the existing Moto X appeal; a customised device personal to the user. This was already something Motorola did quite well, but it’s refining the experience and pushing boundaries, with more colour options, a refined design to make things that much more premium, and even more luxurious material finishes. It seems like  there’s something for everyone here.

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